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Main page / Museums and sightseeing in Veliky Novgorod / Cathedral of St. Sophia The Wisdom Of God, 1045–1050
Cathedral of St. Sophia The Wisdom Of God, 1045–1050
Address:
The Kremlin,
Veliky Novgorod

Telephone:
+7 (816 2) 77 35 56

WWW:
http://saintsofianovg.ru

Working hours:
8:00 – 20:00, ежедневно
Богослужения в 10:00 и 18:00 (кроме Пн и Вт)

8 a.m. – 8 p.m., daily
Services at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. (except Mon. and Thu.)

Entrance Fee:
вход свободный
entrance is free

GPS:
58.52210800, 31.27661700


The unusually short construction period (1045 - 1050) of St. Sophia Cathedral indicates incredible skills of the ancient architects.
 

Where St. Sophia is, there is Novgorod.

So they have been saying in Russia for 1000 years, since the Cathedral of St. Sophia the Holy Wisdom of God was constructed in the 11th century. The cathedral was founded by Yaroslav the Wise and his son Vladimir. The cathedral was meant to be the main temple in the town. Even after many centuries, divine services are still held in the Cathedral of St. Sophia, and everyone can see the ancient Orthodox sanctuary. The cathedral is opened every day from 8 a.m. till 8 p.m. Divine services are held at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. At the same time, the cathedral is the town necropolis. The most famous citizens of the town, bishops, princes, posadniks, are buried in its south gallery.

Read more about the history of the Cathedral

The Cathedral was being built from 1045 to 1050 and thus it is the most ancient stone building in Russia. Novgorodians always worshiped the temple. For example, they believed, that only because of St. Sophia patronage, their town had never been invaded by the Tartars. It is known, that their troops had turned back, slightly before they reached the town. The citizens considered it as a Sign of God. In 1391, the town was saved from the terrible plague. And once again, the Novgorodians connected it with the patronage of St. Sophia. It is worth mentioning, that, by the end of constructing, the temple was the only stone building in Veliky Novgorod. The cathedral was built by talented Kiev and Byzantine masters, and they were able to reflect the common features of Novgorodian Northern character: modesty, severity, grandiosity, might.

Legend had it, that when the dome was frescoed, where the Christ with outspread right arm should have been depicted, the hand of Jesus clenched into a fist. The fresco was redrawn several times, until the artist dreamed a dream, in which Jesus Christ told him, that he had clenched a fist on purpose, to held Novgorod there.

The cathedral has 5 domes. The central dome was gold-plated in the 15th century, which made the temple even more majestic. Together with gold-plating, the lead pigeon, symbolizing the Holy Spirit, was attached to the cross. In Russia of those times, there was one more building of the same type – the Kiev temple, which haven’t survived up to modern times. The Novgorod cathedral differed from Kiev one by the smaller size and severity of forms.

TV project Novgorodinki on TV-channel «Triada».

The time did not have mercy to the interior of the cathedral. However, some things preserved. For example, amazing pictures of Saints Constantine and Helena have survived in the Martirievskaia Porch. The unique feature of this fresco is that it was made upon not wet lime plaster, but dry one. This unique technique used by an ancient artist gives this fresco specific, ’flying’ look. Researchers consider this technique to have been used in ancient wooden churches in Russia. Unfortunately, none of them has survived the time.

The setting of the interior of St. Sophia cathedral was finished at the 12th century. According to the preserved fragments, we can see that the central drum was decorated by 3-metres height figures of prophets. The altar was decorated by mosaic and figures of saints. There was a picture of the Deesis, in other words, canonical pictures of Jesus Christ, the Holy Mother of God and John the Baptist.

From the altar of 11th century, only 2 icons survived:

  • Savior Enthroned
  • Apostles Peter and Paul
The bronze Magdeburg Gates of 
the Cathedral are decorated with Biblical 
and Evangelical scenes (48 scenes).

A new iconostasis, much higher, was set in the St. Sophia Cathedral much later, in the 14-16th centuries.

Magdeburg Gates

Nowadays, visitors can enter the cathedral through the northern Gates. However, the western gates are considered to be the main. They are opened during the ceremonial services. These gates are unusual. They got into Novgorod as a war trophy from Sweden in the 12th century. The Gates were made in Germany, in Magdeburg. In the 15th century, the Gates were reconstructed by Russian master Abraham, whose picture can be seen on the gates together with the German masters Veismut and Rickwin.

Icon of Our Lady of the Sign

One of the most significant icons, made in 1170, is believed to be miracle-working. This icon is still kept in the St. Sophia Cathedral. We are talking about the Icon of the Our Lady of the Sign, which, according to the legend, saved Novgorod from the warriors of Suzdal. This event has played so big role in the history of the town, that even now it is celebrated as a religious feast day. Besides, this event became the basis for the other well-known icon, ‘The battle between the Novgorodians and the Suzdalians’.

Graffiti

Archeologists, who once researched the Pompeii, could get a lot of information from the letterings on the walls of houses, which were written by ordinary people. The situation is the same in Novgorod. The walls of St. Sophia Cathedral have managed to keep so called graffiti – the lettering made by ‘pisalo’, an instrument for writing on the birch bark. People were writing on the birch bark until the 15th century. And a lot of letterings were created up until this time. It is worth known, that Vladimir the Great restricted any letterings on the walls of temples in the 10th century. However, the people were not following the prince’s orders, so in Novgorod, which was not affected by the Tartars, one can read the lettering made by the ordinary people on the walls of one of the most ancient stone buildings in Russia. A great number of letterings shows that a lot of the Novgorodians were literate. The letterings mostly addressed God, but there are some of them, which contain the signs of paganism. Admittedly, some letterings have pure common purposes.

Thanks for the graffiti, we know the names of some masters, who took part in the constructing and decorating of this masterpiece of Russian architecture. They are Georgy, Stephan and Sezhir.

Apart from the St. Sophia Cathedral, one can see these letterings on the Church of the Transfiguration of Our Savior on Nereditsa Hill, Church of St. Theodore Stratilates on the Brook and the other temples of Novgorod.

Paintings of 11th century

It is known, that after its construction, the cathedral was painted only partly. The main painting works were initiated only in 1108. These works partially covered earlier frescoes, but they were discovered during the restoration of the cathedral in the end of 19th century. Just then the pictures of the emperor Constantine and empress Helena were discovered. The figures stand at the both sides of the large cross.

Apparently, the Novgorodians drew parallels between Byzantine and local governors. So, looking at Constantine and Helena they could suppose them to be their own prince Vladimir the Great, who Christianized Russia, and the Saint Olga. Or, they could imagine that they saw prince Vladimir Yaroslavich, son of Yaroslav the Wise, and princess Anne of Kiev. Those people participated directly in the construction of the St. Sophia Cathedral. And the natal days of those persons, who played a significant role in the history of the town, are celebrated to these days.

Miracle-working icons of the cathedral

There are two iconostases in the St. Sophia Cathedral now: the main one, Uspensky, and the second one, Rozhdestvensky. In front of the Uspensky iconostasis, one can see the miracle-working icon of the Our Lady of the Sign.

Among all the icons of the Rozhdestvensky iconostasis, there are two icons, which are believed to be miracle-working. They are:

  • The Holy Mother of Tikhvin
  • The Savior Enthroned

The Holy Mother of Tikhvin is one of the most revered icons. It is an identical copy from another icon of the same type. It is believed, that such copy has all the characteristics of the original one. They consider this icon to have been painted in the end of 15th or the beginning of 16th century.

The icon, called The Savior Enthroned was painted in the 16th century. It was painted over the elder picture, which has survived as well, and can be seen through special windows.

The article was written based on the book ‘Where St. Sophia is, there is Novgorod’, Saint Petersburg, 1997.



The unusually short construction period (1045 - 1050) of St. Sophia Cathedral indicates incredible skills of the ancient architects.
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